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How Working Out Can Help With Stress and Anxiety

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

By: Dr. Dennis Nguyen, DPT

As 2020 rolls along many of us are dealing with a situation we have never been through before. Routines have changed and life seems to have been disrupted somewhat. All of this can lead to higher levels of stress and anxiety. You may feel like you are more on edge and ready to snap at any moment. Luckily there is something simple we can do to help relieve those feelings of stress and anxiety, working out. Working out can lead to decreased stress overall. By following a moderate workout regimen you can get through these difficult times with less stress and feel less anxious. Here is how it works.


A Japanese researcher, Hiroshi Maejima, at Hokkaido University experimented with mice having them use a treadmill for 1 hour a day for 5 days a week. He wanted to see how exercise affected the brain. Many research articles point out how regular exercise is good for brain health. Exercise has shown to increase the volume of the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory), develop new blood vessels in the brain, as well as create new neurons. Maejima and his team went on to learn more about the specifics. They found that increased exercise leads to a higher expression of BDNF, the gene for Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. BDNF is responsible for the growth, maturation, and maintenance of brain cells. Basically the more BDNF present, the more your brain grows, adapts and changes to any new stimulus. Low levels of BDNF have also been shown to lead to depression, poor memory, and even brain degeneration. This is the reason so many physicians have prescribed working out to combat diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia. BDNF has even been shown to elevate mood better than antidepressants. So by working out more you can increase your BDNF levels leading to a natural way of decreasing stress and anxiety.

Exercise means better response to stress

Other research has been done to show how exercise can lead to decreased stress. In 2009 Hans Reul from the University of Bristol and his team had mice go through stressful challenges. The researches put the mice in a new cage environment or forced them to swim through a beaker of water. They found that the mice that exercised regularly acted less stress than the sedentary group. The mice that regularly exercised spent less time frantically exploring their new cage and instead of struggling in the water, kept their heads floating above. The researchers found the mice that regularly exercised were better able to cope with subsequent stress. So when you exercise regularly you will be better able to handle stressors that come your way.

The importance of regular exercise

Human bodies were designed to move. Unfortunately, many of us find it hard to make time for a regular workout routine. However it is important in order to not just maintain physical health, but just as importantly maintain mental health. Increased exercise also leads to increased endorphin levels. Endorphins have been shown to be a natural pain killer, increase energy levels, and improve the ability to sleep which can lead to decreased stress. Exercise does not mean you have to destroy yourself at the gym all day, it could be something as simple as walking around the block or going swimming. However whatever it is you do it has to be consistent. During this strange time in our history, it becomes even more important to make room in your schedule for working out. Many of us have new challenges in our lives leading to increase stress and anxiety. So by keeping up a regular workout regimen we can at least help ourselves decrease our stress and anxiety leading to a happier and healthier outlook. So yes we are all going through a lot and many of us are struggling. So do yourself a favor and work out regularly somehow. You’ll begin to feel stronger, more energized, and most importantly less stressed.

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